Kendari was intended as a visa stop and nothing more. We arrived with 6 working days to renew our visa. We were feeling a bit of pressure.
This town in south east Sulawesi is not on the tourist trail but we had chosen it because we could easily reach our next stop, the Maluku Islands, from here.
Accommodation was cheap so we treated ourselves to 4 nights in the 4 star Swiss-Belhotel which worked out at less than £25 a night including breakfast (which was a veritable banquet and that alone justified splashing out). However it had the most rubbish WiFi we’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. When it did work it was so painfully slow that we were reminded of the days of dial-up internet (or carrier pigeon). Honestly they really need to do something about that!
A 4 star hotel is all well and good for comfort, fluffy towels and hot water showers but the other side of the deal is that they are overrun with staff who are paid to jump through hoops and attend to your every whim not (as indeed some guests expect). From the moment you walk through the door, God forbid you should actually attempt to do anything yourself (open the door, carry your bags, press the lift button, light your own cigarette) because there is a member of staff to do that for you.
Being waited upon hand and foot makes us uncomfortable at the best of times. In restaurants at the end of a meal one of us (usually the Wooky) scrapes and stacks all the plates into a tidy pile before moving them neatly to one side. At the Swiss-Belhotel they seemed appalled that we would do this and it meant the waiter hovered about 3 feet from our table and as soon as it looked like we had finished chewing our last mouthful they swooped in to whisk away our plates before we could blink. Each time we left the building, even if you made a run for it when no staff member could be spotted in the vicinity, just as we reached for the door handle, someone would appear out of thin air and grasped the second before you did. We are really not comfortable with this level of service and after a day we were ready to escape.
Although Kendari a pleasant enough city there is not a lot to see. It is spread out over a large area along the bay and harbour. It was raining most of the time too so beyond traipsing to the immigration office we were not inclined to venture out exploring.
The day after we arrived we trundled off to the Kantor Imigrasi and inside we found the appropriate department. As we approached the counter everyone behind it rushed to our assistance all at once. We were greeted by about half a dozen very young and fresh faced admin staff all eager to help. However before we could explain our predicament we first had to pose for the customary photographs which were uploaded to Facebook while we waited.
Finally we got down to business and explained we want to extend our 60 day visas. We handed over our passports and all the staff huddled around to examine them and discussed between them what was required. Eventually we were advised that we needed to come back with a sponsor who needed to attend with their passport or ID card and complete a statement vouching for our respectability and good character. We explained that we didn’t know anyone in Kendari and was there anyone in the office or that they knew who could fulfil this function for us (this is fairly common practice and additional payment was implied). They all looked at us a bit wide-eyed and said no, there was no-one there that could help us but we could ask a “friend” from our hotel. We didn’t have any “friends” at the hotel we explained, and they suggested the hotel may help us find a “friend”.
This completely flew in the face of everything we had heard about immigration offices around Indonesia that all you needed to do was cross someone’s palm with silver and they would be able to help you out. To be honest, the staff were very young, very sweet, and actually looked quite incorruptible and we’re not very good at this sort of thing anyway. We decided that either this corner of Indonesia was immune to corruption or part of one of those programmes where the government is testing to see if the wheels of bureaucracy can operate without corruption. Either way, we decided it was fairly refreshing but at the same time frustrating.
We left the immigration office a little disheartened and faced with the problem of how we were going to tackle the problem of extending our visas – whether we were going to have to fly out and back or go elsewhere. In the first instance we decided to take the advice of the staff at the immigration office and try our luck at the hotel.
When we returned we explained our predicament to the doorman. It seemed we were in luck and he said he had a “friend” who would be able to help. He called his “friend” and asked us to wait one hour and we installed ourselves in the air conditioned smoking lounge while we considered all our options.
The internet was intermittent and as slow as it had ever been and we tried to check online for other options available. We now had 5 days before we had to renew or leave and the pressure was on a bit.
After a couple of hours surfing it seemed that the general consensus among the online expat community was that our best option by far was to head back to Bali and instruct an agent to provide all the documentation and make all the arrangements and appointments for a relatively small fee. Bali Immigration Office has a high turnover of applications for visa extensions and agents are ten a penny (so prices are competitive). We picked what seemed like a reputable agent, exchanged a few emails and were assured it would be a simple process: passports would be collected, application forms submitted on our behalf, appointments for us to attend for photographs and fingerprinting, and either passports delivered back to our hotel or, and this appealed, we could leave our passport in Bali with the agent and further extensions (a maximum of 4 in total including the initial extension) applied for and we could leave Bali and continue our travels around Indonesia using our driving licences as ID where necessary.
We thanked the doorman (whose “friend” never arrived) and booked a flight to Bali for 2 days later.
We didn’t venture out much after that, we just waited until it was time to leave for Bali. We ate dinner in the hotel lounge bar each evening (the pizza was passable but the crispy duck was as tough as old boots). There was beer, and entertainment in the form of vocalists of varying quality singing cover versions of mainly English songs which apparently had to be performed as an ear blisteringly loud volume.
There was one other westerner staying at the hotel, an English guy with his Indonesian wife and their son. He ran a wine business in Hong Kong and met his wife there (there was mention of visa problems and a jail sentence but we didn’t really understand the whole story). It was his first visit to Indonesia and he was visiting his in-laws who lived in a nearby village. He was clearly dazed by Indonesia, only having visited very westernized Asian cities or resorts. He was particularly shocked by the living conditions of his inlaws and had no idea that people lived like that – no running water, intermittent power, limited sanitation and on very little income. His wife’s family lived in an overcrowded typical wooden village house, with water from a well (to wash and clean – drinking water is bought in 30 litre blue plastic bottles), but from what he said they were no worse off than others in the village.
Our stay was pleasant enough but Kendari didn’t leave much of an impression and after 3 nights of relative luxury (and rubbish WiFi) we were, albeit reluctantly, off to Bali for at least a week for the visa run before we could move on to our next planned destination.
As an aside, that is not to say that it is not impossible to extend a visa in Kendari, and anyone with enough nerve to pick someone off the street or ask a taxi driver to be their sponsor would probably succeed with no problem but we’re just not like that (a bit pathetic in other words). For us, Bali was the best option.